Do you have problems with a stuffy nose and can only breathe through your mouth? Then there is a risk that your health will suffer. It’s easy to dismiss a stuffy nose as insignificant, but the consequences are far from insignificant. A stuffy nose should be taken very seriously and action taken so that normal breathing resumes as soon as possible. Our fantastic nose is probably one of the most underrated and neglected organs we have. The nose is for breathing, mouth is for eating.
One of the effects of mouth breathing is that a nose that is not being used stops functioning properly, i.e. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Reduced airflow through our nose results in lowered air pressure which in turn degenerates and decreases the size of the nasal passages. However, the opposite is also true – if we start to use our nose more we will notice that it begins to feel more open.
Bad breath can be improved
It usually takes no more than a few days to change the habit of breathing through our mouth to breathing through our nose. However, it may take a little longer if the nose has been chronically congested for a long period of time,
When we have switched to nasal breathing, it will probably feel strange to breathe through the mouth again since the air will feel cold and dry and irritate the airways. Many people marvel at how it was even possible to breathe through the mouth before.
Bad breath may originate from mucus coming from the nose when it drips into the oral cavity. Nasal mucus is full of dead bacteria, which may cause bad breath. Hence, keeping the inside of your nose clean may improve bad breath.
Further down in the article you can read five easy tips on how to unblock a stuffy nose, but first some background fact.
Medication or surgery doesn’t address the root cause
Decongestant nasal sprays to widen the airways inside our nose and throat often produce undesirable results, as the root cause—impaired respiration—is not addressed. Prolonged use of nasal sprays may also lead to dependence on the medication because once the mucus membranes become reliant on the decongestant effect of the nasal spray, it becomes difficult to stop using it, for without the spray, the mucus membranes simply swell again.
Polyps, which are outgrowths in the nose, gives a narrow nasal passage which promotes mouth breathing. It is then common to get surgery in order to widen the passage. However, the root cause is not addressed here either and the polyps usually grows out again.
Almost all medications have side effects and no surgical procedure is risk free. Fundamentally, decongestant nasal spray and surgery are short term and unnatural solutions that should be avoided if possible.
One of my course participants commented: “I underwent an operation on my nose four years ago without positive effect on my narrow nasal passages. After attending your Conscious Breathing course, and a short period of breathing retraining, my nasal passages felt much wider and freer. Now I am even able to go jogging with my mouth closed without any problem!”
Poor breathing habits are common when the nose is congested
A clogged or narrow nose is usually an indication that breathing is not optimal. Once we start breathing through our nose, the erectile tissue in the nose will decrease in size and the inside of the nose will feel less crowded. Also the mucus production will be reduced.
Similarly, it is possible to reduce the size of swollen tonsils since they are part of our immune system. Enlarged tonsils are a sign that the immune system is overloaded. This could be due to inhaling through the mouth, which increases the amount of bacteria and inflammation in the throat, causing the immune system to work harder.
Mouth breathing is one of the main reasons why the nose becomes blocked or tight. Excessive breathing, the result of breathing through the mouth, leads to a lack of carbon dioxide (CO2). Narrowing the nasal passages by increasing mucus production and swelling the erectile tissue is simply our body’s defense mechanism trying to prevent excessive amounts of CO2 escaping. When we begin to improve our breathing habits, by breathing through the nose and keeping more CO2 in our body, our nose will naturally be less congested.
Carbon dioxide – essential for our health
Perhaps you’ve heard of carbon dioxide before and that it is just a waste product that we shall get rid of as soon as possible. But this is NOT correct! On the contrary, an optimum carbon dioxide pressure is essential for all bodily functions. A few examples;
- Controls breathing. The carbon dioxide pressure controls our breathing. The lower the carbon dioxide pressure in our body, the faster we are breathing. As many of us are aware of, there is a close connection between a fast breathing rate and stress and worry.
- Antibacterial. A study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed that the growth of staphylococci was 1,000 times higher when the bacteria were exposed to normal air (at 37 degrees Celsius) for 24 hours compared to exposure to 100 percent carbon dioxide.
- Increase oxygenation. Carbon dioxide force the oxygen away from the blood so that it can enter into our muscles and organs, and be of use. This is called the Bohr effect after the discoverer, the Danish Christian Bohr.
- Improve blood circulation. Carbon dioxide has a relaxing and widening effect on the smooth muscle surrounding the blood vessels. This makes the blood able to flow more freely.
When we start to improve our breathing, breathe through our nose and build up a higher carbon dioxide pressure in our body our nose will automatically be less congested. How do you breathe? Take our 2-minute Breathing Test here.
Humming increases nasal airflow and the production of nitric oxide (NO)
Studies done at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden shows that a humming sound leads to a dramatic increase of the airflow in the sinuses. Further, the levels of nitric oxide (NO) increases 15- to 20-fold, i.e. 1 500 to 2 000 percent by humming compared with quiet exhalation. NO is known to have a strong antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial effect, just like carbon dioxide.
Impaired breathing leads to poor air circulation and lower pressure both in the nose and sinuses, thus creating an environment beneficial for bacterial growth and inflammations. Humming could then have a positive effect on sinusitis. A study showed that by humming 60—120 times four times per day, chronic sinusitis symptoms were essentially eliminated in four days. You can read more about the study here.
Five easy tips
Let’s take a closer look at five easy tips on what you can do to unblock a stuffy nose.
1. Exercise — Humming
- Close your mouth and let the front part of the tongue rest in its natural place in the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth.
- On exhalation say ”Hmmm…”, in other words push together your vocal cords and squeeze the air out through the nose so that a humming sound occur.
- You can feel the vibrations slightly in your jaw. The vibrations increases the air circulation and the production of NO in the nose and sinuses.
- In chronic blocked nose or sinusitis repeat for 10-20 breaths 2-4 times a day for a few days or until the problems are gone.
- The effects seems to be even better if you alongside the humming push in your ear tragus with your index fingers. This stimulates the vagus nerve which is directly coupled to our rest and digest system (the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system).
- The exercise could also be done preventively, for example when you are about to get a cold, or just being in the mood to do it.
2. Exercise — Count Your Steps
One way to free a blocked nose permanently is to increase the amount of CO2 in the body. This can primarily be done in two ways; through physical activity and by reducing the breathing volume. The best way to reduce the respiratory volume is to close our mouth and extend the exhalation. When we move our body and at the same time reduce our breathing, the amount of CO2 in our body is increased, which relieves the blocked nose.
- Walk, jog or ride a bike while you count the number of steps/pedal pushes you take on inhalation and the number of steps/pedal pushes you take on exhalation. Since prolonged exhalation promotes relaxation, the goal of the exercise is to take more steps/pedal pushes on exhalation than on inhalation.
- Keep your mouth closed during the whole exercise so that breathing only occurs in and out through the nose. During a transition period you could also use nasal strips, like Breathe Right®, to widen the nostrils.
- Find a rhythm that works for you, for example, two or three steps/pedal pushes on inhalation and four, five or six on exhalation.
- The number of steps/pedal pushes may vary during your training session depending on your daily fitness level, speed, whether you are going uphill or downhill, and if you want to push yourself or take it easy.
NOTE! If you push yourself too hard it can give rise to a temparary headache. The reason for the headache is partly because the pressure in the sinus cavities increases and partly because the pressure in the brain increases since the increased levels of carbon dioxide widens the blood vessels so that the blood flow to the brain increases.
Even though it is not a big deal since the headache usually disappear when you slow down and start to take fewer steps on the exhale, I advice you to take is easy.
3. Exercise – Hold your breath while walking
Since rhythmical breathing is of utmost importance I mainly recommend this exercise if the nose is so blocked that Count Your Steps is impossible.
- Step 1: Stand up and take a small breath in and a small breath out in a calm way through your nose (approx. 2-3 seconds on inhalation and approx. 2-3 seconds on exhalation).
- Step 2: Pinch your nose after the exhalation is finished and hold your breath and start walking while counting the number of steps you take.
- Step 3: When you are not able to hold your breath any longer, let go of your nose, inhale and exhale calmly through your nose . Try to wind down by breathing calmly as soon as possible.
NOTE! Your mouth shall remain closed during the entire exercise. If you want to you can count how many steps you can do. This table shows the connection between our breath holding ability and our health status.
4. Rinse your nose with salt and baking soda
- Boil 1 cup of water and allow it to cool until it’s lukewarm.
- Add a pinch of salt, preferably sea salt or Himalayan salt, and a pinch of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for each half cup of water. Stir until dissolved.
- Pour a small amount of water into the palm of your hand and inhale it into each nostril in turn. Alternatively, use a neti pot, Nasaline® or an ordinary 50 cl PET-bottle with sport cork to rinse your nose with water.
- Repeat several times until your nose feels cleaner and less blocked.
- Rinse morning and night for a few days.
5. Drink more water
Signs of dehydration are dry mouth, dry lips and a smell when we are peeing and that the urin are darker yellow or orange. Allergies affecting the upper respiratory tract are often closely related to a blocked nose and dehydration.
Allergy in the upper airways involve a mild or severe hypersensitivity to for example dust, pollen, mold, animal fur and food.
Such over-sensitivity produces inflammation, thus releasing the hormone/neurotransmitter histamine in large quantities. Histamine, which is part of the immune response to protect your body, contributes to increased mucus production and contraction of
the smooth muscles of the bronchi.
Another important function of histamine is to ensure optimum hydration levels in your body. Histamine levels are low when your body is sufficiently hydrated. However, as soon as you begin to become dehydrated, the secretion of histamine is increased to contract your airways in order to prevent water from evaporating.
Each exhalation allows more water to escape than is brought into your body during inhalation. This is because The humidity level in the exhaled air is always 100 percent, while the air we inhale is not as humid. Furthermore, mouth breathing increases the outflow of water even more. A Swedish study showed that the nose is much more efficient than the mouth in retaining water in the body, since 42 percent more water was retained when exhaling through the nose compared to the mouth.
This article is based on the book – Conscious Breathing.